Book: Caine Black Knife by Matthew Stover

Very good SF/fantasy novel

Matthew Stover
Caine Black Knife: The Third of the Acts of Caine: Act of Atonement: Book One
Del Rey, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-345-45587-1
343 pages

I've read Matthew Stover's two fantasy novels, Jericho Moon and Iron Dawn, and the two previous novels in the series that this book is in, Heroes Die and Blade of Tyshalle, and found them all excellent. (Sadly, only Heroes Die seems to be in print, but Amazon's used-book sellers seem amply stocked with the others as of this writing.)

The premise of the series is that society on Earth is caste-based and thoroughly vile for most of its inhabitants. There's an expensive way to travel instantaneously to another Earth-like planet. That planet is straight from a fantasy novel: there's medieval-era technology, magic, faeries, dwarves, and gods who sometimes interfere with human affairs. Our flawed hero is Hari Michaelson from Earth. He's an actor, but he doesn't do Shakespeare or summer-stock. He gets sent to the other planet, Overworld, where he's Caine the assassin and his adventures are recorded for the entertainment of people on Earth. You might say, approximately, that he stars in an alternate-reality television show.

So what we have are fantasy novels with sort of side-helpings of corporate maneuverings and repressive politics. But what's also unique and rather more interesting is that the books are told in the first person and Hari Michaelson is someone who couldn't possibly have been born on Overworld. He has a thoroughly modern and reasonably bad attitude and he has no reverence for anyone, including himself. That's an interesting premise if you ask me, and Mr Stover works it out very well.

It would be better, but not strictly necessary, to read Heroes Die and Blade of Tyshalle before reading Caine Black Knife. There are some spoilers for the earlier books in this one.

There are two plot threads in the book. One is a sort of prequel to the first book, explaining how Caine became famous. The other thread takes place after the end of the second book, when Caine has retired. Naturally enough, the two threads turn out to be related. There are gods and knights and desperate battles here and the result is very good fun.

People who, unlike me, notice the "Book One" in the book's sub-title won't be surprised when they come to the last page of the book and read, "This story concludes in Act of Atonement: Book Two: His Father's Fist". I confess to being a little disappointed that I'll have to wait, probably a couple of years, for the conclusion of the story. Still, the book is very good, even if it's not quite as grand as the first two in the series.

Posted: Wed - January 14, 2009 at 07:20 PM   Main   Category: